Mercury and Compact Fluorescent Light (CFLs) Bulbs

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Fluorescent lights are normally found in straight, long tubes installed in laundry rooms and garages. The ‘swirly bulb’ version of the compact fluorescent light (CFL) is a space-saving version of its longer counterpart, designed to fit into table lamps and other fixtures without reducing the amount of light produced.

How do CFL bulbs differ from regular light bulbs?
Incandescent light bulbs contain a wire filament in a bulb of inert gas. As electricity runs through the wire filament, it heats it up to high temperatures and generates the glow we see as light. CFL bulbs, on the other hand, send electricity through a mixture of mercury and argon gas, exciting the gas molecules to the point they emit ultraviolet light. This light can’t be seen by the human eye, but it activates the fluorescent phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb which produces visible light.

Are CFLs harmful for my health?
A typical CFL contains about five milligrams of mercury – 1/100th the amount found in old thermometers. The use of CFLs has not been known to be a health hazard since the gas is contained within the tube, but precautions should be taken when disposing of CFLs to ensure the glass isn’t broken. If you do happen to break the bulb, don’t touch the glass with your bare hands. Immediately open the windows where possible and evacuate the room of people and pets for at least 15 minutes. If possible, temporarily shut off your HVAC system to prevent circulating the gas throughout the house. After the room has aired out, wear gloves to clean up broken glass and wipe down the area thoroughly with a damp paper towel after the glass has been removed. Avoid using brooms or vacuums to prevent contamination. Put broken glass into a sealed container and dispose of garbage outside of your house.

Where can I safely dispose of old CFLs?
When your CFLs have burned out, it’s important to dispose of them properly to prevent any hazardous fumes from leaking into the environment. To find a local bulb recycling center, visit the EPA’s Web site or Some IKEA, Lowe’s and Home Depot locations also offer in-store recycling. Contact the store in your area before visiting.

Did you know?
CFLs are often referred to as compact fluorescent “light” bulbs by consumers, but in fact the “l” actually stands for “lamps” in the lamp industry. The “bulb” is actually just the glass part of the lamp. In addition, what most of us call “lamps” are in fact called “portable fixtures” or “luminaire.”